Behaviorism in Today’s Classroom

     When considering teaching, learning, and management, behaviorism is very much alive in the classroom today. Behaviorism is based on three principals: learning is manifested by a change in behavior, the environment shapes our behavior, contiguity and reinforcement are essential in explaining the learning process (Smith, 1999). Behaviorism is a learning theory that is based on the principle to reinforce desirable behaviors and ignore or punish undesirable behaviors (Laureate Education Inc., 2008). Despite varying views on behaviorism’s effectiveness in learning, it continues to be used to teach and motivate. Learning is more meaningful and effective when the student is active (Smith, 1999). Howard Pitler et al. outlined the importance of reinforcing effort to motivate students. This strategy is based on the principle of self-efficacy (2007, 155). Students’ levels of belief in their abilities play an essential role in their actual performances. Just as the Little Engine that Could believed he could make it over the hill, students must believe that they are capable of learning. Therefore, they will learn. Much of their successes are dependent upon their efforts. Students should be taught the importance of effort and how to monitor their own efforts. Technology can play a vital role in monitoring effort. Through the use of electronic spreadsheets, data collection tools, and survey resources, students can compare efforts and outcomes (Pitler, 2007). In reinforcing effort, students are able to see a correlation with effort and achievement. This is an important connection to make in school and work.

     Another example of behaviorism in the classroom today is homework and practice (Pitler, 2007). Frequent practice and repetition of information is necessary for learning to occur (Smith, 1999). Although some have contended that homework does not necessarily correlate with learning, it offers students the opportunity to practice and apply what they have learned. Teachers should make sure that the amount of homework is applicable to learning and assigned in appropriate amounts. The length and amount of homework should vary depending on age and grade level. Parental involvement should be minimal; however parents should offer guidance when needed. If homework is assigned, it should be addressed or commented on so the learner may recognize its purpose (Pitler, 2007). If assigned appropriately, homework can be beneficial in reinforcing learning. Depending on availability, technology can be incorporated in homework assignments. The Internet provides a vast variety of sites that can benefit students and learning. Howard Pitler (2007) recommends the following homework sites:

     Behaviorism is a useful and active learning theory in today’s classrooms. Howard Pitler’s “Reinforcing Effort” and “Homework and Practice” offer behaviorist models in which teachers can use to improve learning and integrate technology into the curriculum. Although some scholars believe that behaviorism is only useful when addressing classroom management, its fundamental principals maintain an important role in teaching curriculum (Laureate Education Inc., 2008).


Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). (2008). Behaviorist learning theory. [Video
webcast]. Retrieved from
Pitler, H., Hubbell, E., Kuhn, M., & Malenoski, K. (2007). Using technology with classroom
instruction that works. Alexandria, VA: ASCD
Smith, K. (1999). The behaviourist orientation to learning. In The encyclopedia of informal
education. Retrieved from

5 thoughts on “Behaviorism in Today’s Classroom

  1. I enjoyed your comparison to “The Little Engine that Could,” which is so true in relationship to student learning. Everyone needs positive reinforcement, and believing that you can accomplish something plays a large role in being successful.
    I am a firm believer that homework should not be used to teach students the content of a lesson, but serve more as a review and “drill and practice” opportunity related to what was done in class. More than anything, homework is a responsibility that students can get positive reinforcement for doing. I love your suggestions for technology-based homework assignments. I know my students would much prefer those to paper and pencil assignments.
    Behaviorism in the classroom is necessary, and as you mentioned drives student motivation. When we are rewarded, we want to continue the behavior recognized.

  2. Janelle,

    I love your connection between activity in the classroom and the behaviorist theory. My motto is, “If the students are not active, they are not guaranteed to be learning.” This is proven through the homework and practice and reinforcing effort strategies! Thank you for your post!

  3. Hi Janelle,
    Like you, I believe that behaviorists learning theory has traditionally been used by most teachers to help manage behavior. From the simple – an encouraging word or smile or a discouraging look – to the more complex like contract programs which clearly outline behaviors and the consequences of the behaviors. However, as you indicated, behaviorist learning theory also has significant application for the curriculum. Despite the fact that this theory has been around for so long, both these strategies – Reinforcing Effort and Homework and Practice – demonstrate how behaviorist-based technology can be integrated in modern classrooms. As a result, behaviorist principles remain relevant for modern teachers and educators even as new ideas and theories of learning emerge.

    Andrew Haynes

  4. I love the comparison to the little engine that could. Students have to believe in themselves. I feel that one the biggest jobs a teacher faces is getting students to have a passion for learning and the belief that they can be successful in school. Once a student has passion for learning and believe they can succeed the rest seems to come a little bit easier. The reinforcing effort strategy discussed this week is a great way to get kids to visualize how their efforts effect their final results (Pitler, Hubbell, Kuhn, Malenoski, 2007).

    Homework is a tricky subject. Lots of schools are going away from kids having homework. In my oppinion if it is done correctly homework can still be helpful to students. This coming up school year my school is flipping the instruction. The students will each have a macbook and watch podcasts of the lessons at home and then do the practice activities in the classroom. I am excited to see the results and see if my students benefit from it. Our hope is that with us be present while they do the practice we can clear up misconceptions and do mini lessons on an individual basis, which is something parents could not do during homework time.

    • I am excited about your school’s progress! You will have to keep us posted on what you all experience. I am impressed that each student will have a Macbook – your school is moving in the right direction.
      Recently in my school district, our school board voted that I Pads would not enhance learning. Later, the board was offered their own I Pads to take home and they accepted. Hopefully they will decide that they can be useful. I think some still view the classroom as it was thirty years ago. We need leaders with fresh minds who are willing to integrate technology into the curriculum. I applaud your school for recognizing technology’s role in learning.
      ~ Janelle

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>